A week after I learned I was apparently born in Ireland, and expressed regret at my laziness for never having bothered to visit that country in all the years I lived next door (at least the way I look at the world now), I was offered a chance out of the blue to enjoy an all-expenses-paid holiday to Dublin by the good people at Hostelworld.com:
As you are one of our top customers, I’d like to invite you to participate in our 2015 Hostel Conference in Dublin, Ireland in January.
We’d love you to join us as part of a group of our best customers to participate in a panel discussion with hostel owners.
We will pay for your airfare and accommodation in Dublin, as well as provide your meals at the conference itself.
Ideally, we would fly you into Dublin on Saturday, January 24 or Sunday, January 25 and fly you back home on the evening of Tuesday, January 27.
Your input into our conference would be much appreciated --- is this something you would consider doing?
All I had to do to qualify for this generous offer was to book practically every place I've stayed over the last four-and-a-bit years through the same hostel website, for reasons of familiarity and laziness, and to diligently review all 122 of them, because it's nice to have a good moan. There should actually be a lot more than that - it looks like the ones from January 2011 and earlier have been eroded by the time winds.
As my home country is listed as 'England' on their website (I thought I was Irish? I'm so confused), I assumed their already generous offer wouldn't stretch to the 23,798-kilometre round trip from the Philippines (we'll probably be elsewhere in Asia in January, but not much closer), so I gratefully declined. Which is a shame, as I would have enjoyed the opportunity to deliver my arrogant critiques of Wi-Fi and backhanded compliments about staff to the owners in person, rather than just reading their aggressive replies online.
Why did they want me? Maybe they heard the news that I'm Irish and figured they could save on the transport if I was already in the area. I'm still flattered though - I'd probably get nice offers like this all the time if I'd ever made the effort to network or was generally friendly online, but then I'd be a sell-out to the People Who Hate People cause.
You know people actually read these reviews, right? II
Let's see the sort of helpful feedback those hoteliers will be missing out on by taking another journey through unfairly harsh reviews with pointless tangents. I last did this in April 2012, and as that came shortly after my decision to never sleep in shared dorms again after a number of bad experiences, these more recent ones don't include the same level of arseholery. But I think they still offer revealing insights into how bad accommodation and staff can be, or just the different kind of moods I was in on those several days per year when I caught up on the last few months' worth of reviews.
Location: Guangzhou, China
Date: July 2012
Review: 'Do not stay here until the construction work has finished! Between the late night chatter of other guests into the night and hammering and drilling at 8AM sharp, you won't get much sleep even with earplugs. There are also petty charges for things most other places would provide free, even when you're staying in a private room. But otherwise it's fine for a cheap place.'
Review review: I was so annoyed by the noise - directly outside my room, through an open window that was too high up to close - that I recorded one minute of it on Windows Sound Recorder, like some kind of Victor Meldrew. I guess I intended to share it with you before I went outside and found more pressing things to bitch about instead. I like the last line: 'But, you know, apart from all those things...'
Location: Nimbin, Australia
Date: January 2013
Review: 'Helpful staff and good facilities, more character than the standard YHA. You don't have to be a pothead to stay here, but it probably helps. A lot of people looked bleary-eyed and might have been staying for months.'
Review review: See how I elevate myself above the disgraceful 'potheads' I was chatting with. Smoking their doobies like deadbeats while I munched my disgusting cannabis cookie and went to bed early because I got drowsy.
Location: Cebu, Philippines
Date: January 2013
Rating: 69% (very fitting)
Review: 'I arranged airport pick-up for my late arrival but it didn't arrive. When I finally got to my room I heard another guest arguing with a prostitute and demanding his money back for about half an hour, all within earshot of the 'security guard' downstairs who did nothing. I guess it's that kind of place. Pretty dodgy street too, the other reviews didn't give me any idea about that - maybe this is one for the old guys with loose morals rather than backpackers.'
Review review: You can tell by the word count that I was eager to give this one a write-up. I anticipated a reply from the owner underneath - they're allowed to do that, and even to unfairly get negative reviews removed if they ask - but they didn't bother. I've been back here since when transferring in Cebu, because it's cheap and has Wi-Fi. Even I don't take my advice, so I don't expect you to.
Location: Puerto Princesa, Philippines
Date: February 2013
Review: 'We had a nice time here, the reception staff will help you book tours though you can get better prices at travel agents. The restaurant leaves a lot to be desired, they often only had one or two food options available for dinner and it could take up to an hour to arrive. But the internet is good - not available in rooms.'
Review review: Backhanded compliments galore! I extend my hand to shake, only to pull away at the last second to waggle it tauntingly in front of my face.
What did those flowers do to deserve this?
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Date: February 2013
Review: 'Didn't honour my booking - I reserved a single room and when I arrived my name had clearly been Tipp-ex'd out and the room given to someone else, so I had to stay in the dorm. Apart from that pretty major lapse, the facilities are good.'
Review review: Oh yeah, I forgot about that! Sometimes these are just blogs.
Location: Manila, Philippines
Date: March 2013
Review: 'We stayed here because it was close to our bus station, otherwise I would have looked for somewhere more traveller-friendly. Good facilities (fast Wi-Fi), but we were a bit put-off by the prostitutes hanging around in reception.'
Review review: Looks like I'm inadvertently creating a handy guide to Hooker-Friendly Hotels in the Philippines. Also coming soon from Superfluous Publications: Bars That Serve Beer.
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Date: May 2013
Review: 'Great value for borderline luxury accommodation in the heart of the tourist district. If you're happy to spend a few extra dollars, the rooms are really nice, though there aren't many freebies and only one of the reception staff seemed to know how things worked.'
Review review: I don't know what the 'freebies' comment was about - maybe we had to pay for our towels or they didn't give us water or something. And I guess I had something personal against the staff that day. I assumed I'd stay here again next time I'm in Bangkok, but after reading this vague review I'll have to reconsider.
Location: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Date: May 2013
Review: 'We stayed here because other reviews mentioned the fair prices for tours, which is true and saves you the headaches and irritation of bargaining. Good facilities, but as a mixed race couple (non-Vietnamese) the staff didn't make us feel especially welcome. This was a trend in Vietnam.'
Review review: They still get a decent 83%, but the memory of my girlfriend getting yelled at in Vietnamese when we headed back to our room in the evening because they thought she was a local prostitute isn't a pleasant one. When I headed downstairs after a while to tell the staff she'd upset my girlfriend, and delivered the speech about how they should treat international travellers from Asia with the same respect as international travellers from Caucasialand, she didn't apologise or seem to really understand why there was an issue.
There were subtle hints, to be fair
Location: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Date: January 2014
Review: 'Everything you need in a good location, the Wi-Fi is better on the lower floors. The earlier reviewer was right about some of the younger staff not being as courteous to fellow Asian guests as to white guests though, but I guess that's common.'
Review review: We'd learned by now it was a widespread trend. We had the same thing in Thailand and Indonesia too, but I didn't book those places on Hostelworld so you're spared the repetition and can look forward to more compelling tales of problematic Wi-Fi availability.
Location: Padangbai, Indonesia
Date: February 2014
Review: 'Nice location and all the facilities you'll need. Be careful not to pay their young driver directly if you arrange pick-up - he was happy to take the money without explaining that we're supposed to pay on check out, and when questioned he told the owner he 'couldn't remember' if we'd paid or not.'
Review review: Sometimes you just want to clear 'all the facilities' out of the way so you can focus on that one aspect that amused you. It was that or write about the Wi-Fi not reaching the room again.
Location: Phuket, Thailand
Date: June 2014
Review: 'Good Wi-Fi and a comfortable room. The taxi from the airport charged more than stated in the email - 850 baht using the meter. Welcome to Phuket.'
Review review: The first six words are about the hotel, at least.
And I'm supposed to be one of their best customers. I'd hate to see what the pricks are like.
Obviously, these were just the occasional downers that you risk when travelling cheap, and most of my reviews are either glowing or the more common brief, stoic statement of adequacy. I don't actively seek out lousy accommodation to gather enough material to write a blog about it a couple of years down the line - this isn't 2011 any more - and I always read through other people's reviews before booking to see if they've dealt with the sort of points I make a point of pointing out.
It's my obligation as part of the travel community to spread the word about Wi-Fi signals being slightly stronger in the lobby and where guests can stay if they want to bring a prostitute along with no hassle so they can disturb their fellow guests in peace. So you don't need to reward me for my efforts with a weird business trip, I'm just doing my duty.
I definitely would have gone if I could though, if only to [finally get my arse to Ireland / return to the homeland].